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Alexis Murphy - USA Pavilion Student Ambassador

USA Pavilion Student Ambassador from the University of Arizona, now serving at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo
September 16, 2010

A Shaanxi Wedding                                                         September 16, 2010

There are things that I would never be asked to do in the U.S.  Being asked to act as a bride in a traditional Tang Dynasty wedding at the Shaanxi Pavilion was among the bizarre activities that I have been asked to participate in just on the lone fact that I am—and look like—a foreigner.  The night before the fateful ceremony, I was out to dinner with my Operations shift, along with our managers.  Nearing midnight, Peter Winter casually asked us girls if any of us would be interested in participating in an event at the Shaanxi Pavilion for Chinese Valentine’s Day the following morning, in just eight short hours.  Fellow U.S. Student Ambassador Lawrence had already volunteered to play the part of the husband.  When I replied that I was on shift the next day, Peter assured me that someone would cover for me.  What should I do?—another day in Operations, or the chance to get married?  Duh.  At the time however, I didn’t know that adorning a ten-pound hat that caused my neck to be slightly tilted for over an hour was part of the agreement. 

Upon arrival to the Shaanxi Pavilion we met our fellow bride and groom—also a fake couple from the Austria Pavilion.  We were then given our costumes.  Mine was a beautiful orange gown covered with embroidery and sequins along with a 20-inch tall headpiece.  Lawrence’s was a yellow two-piece number with a head piece that looked like two long doggy ears.  We then walked through a rehearsal of the wedding.  We would start out by holding a red satin bow and then stepping over fire (in this case, fake fire), stepping over a saddle, ducking under some lanterns, feeding each other dumplings, linking arms and drinking some wine (only water!), bowing to the heavens, earth, and each other.  The actual ceremony went smoothly as we smiled for the hundreds of camera flashes and several Shaanxi politicians who had come in town from Shaanxi for the day. Even though the opportunity to participate in such a unique experience was more than enough, we were also given several gifts for our participation.  Each morning I’m reminded of my Shaanxi elopement when I use my new Shaanxi coffee cup.  Following the wedding, the costume changing, and the interviews, Lawrence and I honeymooned in the different Chinese provincial pavilions.

A couple days later in a Skype conversation with my parents and their friends, I casually mentioned, “Oh my gosh!  I forgot to tell you—I got married!”  The bewildered reply by all was priceless.  “You what?!”  I then explained my participation in the wedding, and they wanted every detail.  So what differentiates a real wedding from this “fake” wedding?  If we followed what thousands of predecessors have done, and their wedding was real, why is ours not? Following the conversation, they then looked at pictures from the photo link I sent them, and they then continued to google my new husband.  My mom later emailed me and was happy to find out that he graduated from Harvard, with a major in Astrophysics no less; this was all news to me, for I had just met Lawrence.

When I decide to tie the knot for real, I can just hear my dad’s speech: “I don’t know if any of you know this, but this is actually Ali’s second wedding.  Back when she was twenty-one years-old she eloped in China...” I can just picture the expressions of my husband and wedding guests.

Despite my frustrations at times with never blending in while in China, along with all the photos, the stares, and the laowai shout-outs, I still choose to live in China because life never ceases to be an adventure. I get to participate in activities that I would never have the opportunity to do in the U.S. (or several other countries for that matter.)  In the past, China was forcibly  opened up to the outside world, but today China is willingly opening itself up, actively sharing its cultures with outsiders.  That’s what the Expo is all about—creating the opportunity for the direct exchange of customs and conversations between people of different nations.